The Torneo Infantil

Report from the 11th International Youth Tournament CD Canillas, September 2011

By Footblogball contributer Aidan Isherwood.

As there is no qualification, only invitation, it was a bit presumptuous to call this tournament “The Little Champions League”, but the organizers did a pretty good job of creating something that came close to befitting that description for the 400 13-year-old boys taking part in this tournament hosted by what I think are a bit of a feeder club for Real Madrid.

Some of the biggest clubs in European football sent their academy teams there, including Liverpool, Arsenal, Inter Milan, PSV, FC Porto and Dynamo Moscow, as well as Atletico and Real Madrid. Plus a few from further afield like the Aspire Academy,Qatar and Kashiwa Reysol from Japan. They played the Champions League music and read the players’ names out as they came through the tunnel and out onto the pitch. The atmosphere was festive for the most. Two thousand supporters were packed into the little Canillas stadium for the final games. The tournament had Spain’s national manager Vicente del Bosque as its patron. He was there of course, but everybody else seemed to be trying to get a picture of Zinedine Zidane, whose son, Luca, was in goals for Real Madrid’s academy team. I imagine he was also there in his new capacity as Director of Football for Real Madrid. We even saw Liam Brady hanging about a hotel lobby the firstevening, there with the Arsenal entourage.

Oh, and one other bit of authenticity, the tournament was won by a Barcelona team thatwere on a different level to all the other teams present. Just like the real thing!

The speed of their pressing game, the way they attacked with one- and two-touch flicksand chips, knowing a team mate would be racing to receive and their ability to control fast and difficult balls all reminded you of their older clubmates. Guardiola’s team mostly grew up in La Masia with boys from Catalonia, a few other particularly gifted players from further afield in Spain, plus Messi himself, invited from Argentina at around the age of 13. But the team that won this year’s U13s tournament included two South Koreans, brought over with their immediate family and even grandparents (well, at least those ofone of them), another, reputedly the best 13-year-old from the Cameroon as well as Eidur Gudjonsen’s son, Svenin as centre-forward. The Barcelona dynasty looks set to run and run, assuming this is all within the rules.

I was there watching my own son’s team, outsiders Brommapojkarna from Sweden. The criticisms this west Stockholm club sometimes receive for luring players from acrossthe city seem a bit trivial alongside the Barça project for world domination. On the other hand, the Stockholm football authorities have now said that clubs cannot take players younger than 14 from teams in other parts of the city.

Overall, the tournament was a fantastic experience for players and spectators, with just a few complaints. The referee in our team’s first two matches decided to cut the time short by a few minutes, seemingly at random and definitely unannounced. Following orders
to catch up after a delayed first match, was the official’s explanation. The tournamentofficials meanwhile said the referee must have done it independently as they would never have sanctioned it, so he would be expelled from the tournament. He subsequently turned
up and refereed our semi-final!

One did get the feeling that our team was a bit less important as Inter would be going through to the semi anyway. Only the winners of the four groups of five would qualify for the semis, adding to the tension. And for these academy teams there was clearly
pressure to win, or at least to perform well. But even so there were a few really nice moments much more appropriate to a kids’ tournament.

An Arabic speaking mother from our team had the whole of the Aspire academy cheering us on, in Swedish, to a surprise last-kick-of-the-game victory over Inter. And even though our match with home team Alcobendas had been a really tough and occasionally
fraught affair, our players led the Spanish supporters in cheering their team to a fantastic late draw against Werder Bremen. Meaning we then had the privilege of receiving a footballing lesson from Barcelona in the semi-final. This was followed by a slightly
frustrating draw with Real Madrid in the third-place play-off and a failure to break down Luca Zidane in the penalty shoot-out.

All 20 teams lined up and were given medals and trophies at the end. They shook hands with Del Bosque and Zidane. Barcelona’s “Korean Messi”, Lee, was awarded player of the tournament and for all the boys there that never become professionals they’ll always
be able to point Lee out on TV and say “I played against him or in the same tournament as him once”. Which is more than most of us can say when we watch Messi and co.

Check out the tournament results here

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